Know Your Right Wingers
SOURCE: August Pollak
When President-elect Barack Obama picked Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration ceremony, mainstream commentators hailed the mega-church pastor as a representative of a new generation of moderate American evangelical leaders. But if Warren’s statements on gays, women, liberals, and just about anyone else outside the fundamentalist evangelical movement are any indication, Warren doesn’t seem terribly different from the "old" generation of right-wing evangelical leaders.
Warren was born on Jan. 28, 1954, in San Jose, California. He is the son of Jimmy Warren, a conservative Baptist preacher. After graduating from high school in 1972, he attended California Baptist University in Riverside. By this time, according to Warren, he had preached at revival meetings in over 50 churches. He decided to enter the ministry, however, after attending a service led by W.A. Criswell, who at the time was the leader of one of the largest Baptist churches in the world. There, Warren says, "God spoke personally to me and made it very clear. He was calling me to be a pastor."
Warren went on to earn his masters of divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and a doctorate of ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. In 1980, Warren founded Saddleback Church in Lakeview, California. From here, Warren’s story is pretty well-known: At Saddleback, Warren perfected his "church growth methods," and by the early 1990s, he was regularly pulling in 10,000 worshipers a week. In 1995 Warren released The Purpose Driven Church, a distillation of his church growth methods for pastors and other religious leaders.
Warren followed up The Purpose Driven Church in 2002 with the now-famous The Purpose Driven Life. In the book, he offers readers a 40-day spiritual journey, set within the context of what Warren says are God’s five purposes for human life. The Purpose Driven Life was an international success, selling well over 20 million copies. By 2005, Warren was one of the most high-profile pastors in the country. That year, Time magazine went so far as to declare him "America’s minister," a sort of 21st century Billy Graham.
Unlike Rev. Graham however, Warren has consistently been a reliable ally of extreme social conservatives, with the advantage of working under a cover of theological and political "moderation." Indeed, Warren’s professed desire to move away from "sin issues," like abortion and gay marriage, is often at odds with his own statements. In 2004, for example, Warren declared that abortion, stem-cell research, and gay marriage were "non-negotiables" for "those who accept the Bible as God’s Word," striking a tone quite similar to other leaders on the religious right, like Focus on the Family founder and chairman James Dobson.
Shortly before the Saddleback Faith Forum for the presidential candidates last summer, Warren announced that he would ask John McCain and Barack Obama "heartland questions" and not "gotcha" questions, since, as he explained it, "I’m called as a pastor to shepherd all the flock, and I have in my church Democrats and Republicans and liberals and conservatives and moderates, and everybody in between." His questions, however, had little to do with so-called "heartland issues" or even "moderate" issues like poverty, HIV/AIDS, and the environment—causes Warren has claimed as his own in the past. Instead, Warren went down the standard list of right-wing concerns: abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research, and judicial nominations to the Supreme Court. What’s more, in the days following the forum, Warren all but declared that we ought to have a religious litmus test for presidential candidates.
Warren isn’t just passively involved in politics. After California passed its gay marriage ban on Nov. 4 last year, the public discovered Warren had actively supported Proposition 8’s passage, and even endorsed it shortly before the election. In fact, you can find Warren siding with the right on most issues. Warren believes that women ought to "submit" to their husbands, that a loving, committed same-sex marriage is the moral equivalent of incest and pedophilia, and that Social Gospel Christians are basically Marxists. Even Warren’s HIV/AIDS work in Africa is questionable; many of the groups and leaders Warren works with oppose recommending contraceptives like condoms (one of the most effective methods of preventing HIV/AIDS) and are virulently anti-gay.
Most recently, on the Dec. 3 broadcast of Hannity and Colmes, Warren agreed with conservative host Sean Hannity’s insistence that the United States needs to "take out" Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Warren justified his view, saying that "Well, actually, the Bible says that evil cannot be negotiated with. It has to just be stopped." He continued: "In fact, that is the legitimate role of government. The Bible says that God puts government on earth to punish evildoers. Not good-doers. Evildoers."
Ever since President-elect Obama announced Warren’s position at his inauguration, many have increased their scrutiny of Warren’s beliefs. The attention has revealed what others have known all along—Rick Warren is nothing more than a slightly kinder, slightly gentler version of the familiar cadre of right-wing evangelical leaders.
In his own words
"For 5,000 years, EVERY culture and EVERY religion—not just Christianity—has defined marriage as a contract between men and women. There is no reason to change the universal, historical definition of marriage to appease 2 percent of our population."
LARRY KING: “Does a person have to believe in god to be president?”
RICK WARREN: “I would say so. I couldn’t vote for a person who was an atheist, because I would think—I think the presidency is a job too big for one person. I would think there’s a little arrogance that says I don’t need anybody else. I could vote for someone of different religions than mine, but I don’t know that I could personally vote for somebody who denies that we need somebody greater than ourselves to help us."
"...you don’t really need to care about Jesus’ personal salvation any more. You don’t really have to care about redemption, the cross, repentance. All we need to do is redeem the social structures of society and if we make those social structures better then the world will be a better place. ... Really, in many ways it was just Marxism in Christian clothing."
"But the issue to me is: I’m not opposed to that as much as I’m opposed to the redefinition of a 5,000-year definition of marriage. I’m opposed to having a brother and sister be together and call that marriage. I’m opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that a marriage. I’m opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage."
Jamelle Bouie is a blogger at Pushback.